The absence of Patriotism, Pluralism and Cosmopolitanism: ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ in retrospection

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS Former Sri Lankan child soldier Warnakulasuriya Anthony Sunil Rexy (right) laughs with other inmates as they play earlier this month at a government rehabilitation center in Ambepussa. Original in The Washington Times.

The TV programme entitled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, produced by Channel 4 of the UK, sparked substantial debate and discussion in every strata of interest on Sri Lanka, including the realms of high politics and diplomacy, national an international journalism, the non-governmental sector and the programme carried sufficient weight to trigger a renewed interest on Sri Lankan affairs in the West – which – due to the absence of key strategic interests in Sri Lanka, does not generally have a place in Western foreign policy agendas.

While the Government of Sri Lanka condemned the programme as false and criticised its intent at causing international embarrassment to Sri Lanka, Western governments reiterated their common request that Sri Lanka should seriously investigate the allegations of crimes of war and violations of human rights. The issue of accountability during the last phase of Eelam War IV thus remerged as the key concern in terms of Sri Lankan foreign policy.

The Tamil diaspora, especially the hardline nationalist elements within it, who continue to uphold a secessionist ideology and thereby cherish the political aspiration of the now dismembered Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), found the Channel 4 TV programme a worthwhile piece of evidence, that promptly justified their vehement opposition to Eelam War IV and the Rajapaska administration, thus highlighting that the Government of Sri Lanka is not in a position to respond to the political aspirations of Tamils. Despite the post-Nandikadal political order, they use opportunities such as Killing Fields to reiterate that secession from the unitary Sri Lankan state is the only way forward.

What, in essence, is the nature of the position of Western governments concerning Sri Lanka today, i.e. two years into the end of controversial Eelam War IV?
The position of the West as a whole is strongly embodied in the highly ambiguous reaction of the British Government. At question time, Labour MPs in the opposition benches were apt at raising the issue of Sri Lanka and the Channel 4 TV programme in particular. Prime Minister David Cameron’s diplomatic and politically tactful response was that although he had not watched the programme, London will continue to press Colombo to carry out impartial investigations. Almost a fortnight later, the issue of Sri Lanka was once again raised, this time in the British House of Lords, by the Lord Laird of Artigarvan, a beautiful village nestled in County Tyrone of Northern Ireland, a province characterised not only by its contested constitutional position, but also by violent atrocities over a prolonged period. His question raised concerns over the British Government’s representations to Sri Lanka on human rights issues in dealing with Tamil Tigers in 2009. It was followed by another question by Lord Patten, on the case of disappeared Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda. Once again Minister of State the Lord Howell of Guildford responded to both questions reiterating the UK’s repeated calls for impartial investigations and concern over human rights.

While such commitments were being expressed, it was reported that a member of staff of the Rt Hon. Liam Fox MP, the UK’s Defence Secretary, was visiting Colombo, a visit reportedly arranged by a former Sri Lankan minister of foreign affairs. The objective of the visit, as it was reported in the media, was extremely significant, in its heralding of a quintessentially neoconservative marriage of interests. Fox’s representative apparently sought Colombo’s support in preventing (read ‘suppressing’) any opposition that may arise to the deportation of a number of Sri Lankan Tamils whose applications for political asylum had been rejected by the British Home Office. This provided Colombo, a stark opponent of the Tamil Diaspora (especially after the Oxford Union debacle of December 2010), with a fine opportunity to develop a working partnership with the Tory Government in London, despite the gaps caused by the issues of war crimes and accountability. For The British Government, this was a fine arrangement, as it enabled the smooth enactment of its resolve to cut down immigration and especially asylum, as part of its highly tightened immigration policy. When targeting Tamils over asylum cuts, the Tory Government, which professed in both houses of parliament to press Colombo on accountability, seems to have comfortably forgotten the allegations over war crimes and human rights violations (committed against the Tamils). As one newspaper noted:

It is good to know then that the Home Office is convinced that the Island went from a country where disappearances and extra-judicial executions still occur in the country, as its report on Human Rights in Sri Lanka, published in April this year, says, to a place that is now absolutely safe. Another option however might be that despite concerns for human rights, work is work and the immigration quotas still need to be respected (International Business Times, UK, 16 June 2011).

This essentially ambivalent Sri Lanka policy, with calls for accountability on one hand and neocon cohorts on the other, takes place in a context where news from the Northern capital of Jaffna is replete with one case after another of murder, assault, abduction and violence, as in the recent cases of an attack against a meeting hosted by Tamil MPs, and a young man’s body left tied onto a football goal post in a playground. The most shameless act of violence, highly symbolic of the approach of those heading the Sri Lankan military apparatus on issues such as minority rights, equal opportunities, a durable political settlement to the ethnic question and related concerns, was the killing of a dog owned by a TNA politician. The dog’s head was completely amputated, and was left fixed on the gate of the said politician’s courtyard (pictures of this incident can be found on Sri Lankan news websites). The rest of the body was also left in the premises. This according to a leading TNA MP, was the military’s reaction to a statement he made that Tamil politics in Jaffna are marred by military suppression (those interested may find many a news report on this issue on the cyberspace).

It is beyond doubt that the British High Commission in Colombo is fully aware of the continuing dodgy deeds in Sri Lanka’s North, and includes them in updates sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But such atrocities, irrespective of their degree of violence and intensity, no longer have an impact on Britain’s treatment of the Tamils, whether British Tamils like it, or not. The issue of Sri Lanka provides Western governments with a useful case from the developing world to ‘finger-point’ in their most respected representative assemblies, thereby expressing their own soi-disant commitment to human rights, accountability and minority rights. All such statements remain limited to theory, and practice, as we can see, is a completely different and essentially paradoxical ballgame.

At the time of writing, and in a manner that aptly symbolises the above-mentioned ambivalence, Liam Fox himself is on a visit to Sri Lanka, to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture. It was an event planned for late 2010/early 2011, but had to be postponed due to President Rajapaksa’s Oxford debacle and possible unfavourable reactions within Sri Lanka. This is exactly how the neocon psyche works: cautious waiting until the tide goes down, and then tread along, cautiously.

In this situation, the Government of Sri Lanka is indeed in a position to gain full control over its foreign policy, mend its relations with the West, and rework its image abroad in both diplomatic and public realms. But doing so requires competent personnel, capable of grasping the emerging trends and ambiguities of foreign policy planning and diplomacy. As Sri Lanka’s woes at the UN (especially UNHQ), the USA and New Delhi demonstrate, placing the right people at the rights places does not seem to be the present regime’s cup of tea. This certainly does not mean that all appointments are questionable – some diplomats (including political appointees) are indeed highly capable and do possess the potential to move Sri Lanka on a strategically promising path. But the diplomatic corps of Sri Lanka today seems to be marked by the absence of a cohesive strategy in dealing with the substantial foreign policy challenges and strategically minded personnel to put such strategy into practice. Instead, what we do have is a range of personalities including USA-based businesspeople, retired judges and lawyers, literary critics, writers and professors of literature dealing with the trickiest of issues in terms of foreign affairs. While some are indeed successful in demonstrating their mastery of the English language and literature, debating skills, wit and related attributes, their work as a whole is marred by the absence of diplomatic tact to hold the mantle of Sri Lankan diplomacy.

Questions on our own morality
Someone who stood at the highest realms of political power in Sri Lanka some six years ago, recently noted during a discussion with this writer that every single Sinhalese ought to watch Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. This writer fully agrees with this statement. The reason for such approval is simple: a large majority of Sinhalese have been rendered uncritical and unquestioning in their acceptance of what is being said to them, especially by the state-owned media. News and analyses with a dissenting voice are barred from Sri Lanka, worsening the situation. The result is a community narcissistic about their political views, happy enough to swallow anything the state media throws at them. In a democratic political system, this is a dangerous trend for the future of the Republic. It is also venomous, and possesses the potential of making us move on a backward march in an era of internationalisation and cosmopolitanism.

Many Sinhalese are simply unprepared to accept, for instance, the reality of what happened during the last stages of Eelam War IV. They deliberately ignore the fact that it was a counterinsurgency operation, and that such an operation simply cannot be devoid of fierce warfare and ensuing violence. It was also a war of tremendous hatred. The official stance of the Government of Sri Lanka is highly paradoxical with regards to this point. Throughout its existence, the LTTE was composed of Tamil youth from impoverished (often low-caste) layers of Tamil society. The young people who enlisted largely did so in the absence of any other alternatives. When children were forcefully conscripted, parents and family members simply had no choice. We must never forget this social dimension, which shares a parallel with the social composition of Sri Lanka’s state armed forces. The armed forces are largely composed of Sinhalese youth from underdeveloped rural areas, in many a case with low O level results (often failing key subjects) and in a tremendously large number of cases, they end up joining the army in the absence of any other choices. Ultimately, Sri Lanka’s war, or more specifically its last stage Eelam War IV, can indeed be read as a battleground confrontation between young Sinhalese and Tamils in the same boat, i.e. from the less able strata of Sinhala and Tamil society. The only difference lay in the fact that the Sinhalese youth were members of the legitimate military forces of a sovereign state, while the Tamil youth were members of an armed militant group with pronouncedly secessionist motives, proscribed in many parts of the world, with a notorious reputation as one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations the world has known in the latter decades of the 20th century. The position of the LTTE, especially its feats in terms of suicide bomb attacks, has left a legacy of deep hatred in the Sinhalese community in general and among the rank and file of the armed forces in particular. The military defeat of such an organisation by a counterinsurgency operation is bound to be marked by tremendous violence, and violent, or near-barbaric expressions of anti-LTTE hatred.

This living reality is what can be glimpsed from the videos of female bodies in one of the amateur videos in the Killing Fields TV programme, where bodies of stripped young women lie on the ground. In putting one of the dead, or half-alive female corpses on to a tractor, one soldier comments ‘oka honda kañda’. This, and other words of Sinhalese filth exchanged among the military men amply denote that raw sexual abuse has been inflicted not only upon young women with the slightest evidence of connections to the LTTE, as well as on women whom the perpetrators of abuse found attractive. The scene of naked men (presumably LTTE cadres – the last among them to fight the Sri Lankan military to the very end) being humiliated and shot point blank, is yet another example of the anti-LTTE hatred. The same goes for the apparently deliberate shelling of hospitals and the cold-blooded murder of LTTE political wing leaders and their families. The Channel 4 programme did not allude, quite strangely by the way, to the ultimate fate of LTTE leader Prabakaran and his family. While readers may not find it difficult to imagine what happened to them, a detailed account of the manner in which the Prabakaran family was killed appears on a UTHR-J special report released in the aftermath of Eelam War IV. Despite the inability of confirming the deeds, those familiar with counterinsurgency operations (anywhere in the world) in general and the Sri Lankan conflict in particular may note the high plausibility of this account. While the UTHR-J account is too long to be summarised here, suffice to note that it is highly reminiscent of accounts of the manner in which the Tsar’s family was executed soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

If the girls in question were indeed sexually abused and killed, there is a key point that we Sinhalese ought to reflect upon. What if, in the context of a rapidly militarised society (in the ‘Sinhalese’ South), such sexual abuse and murder were inflicted on Sinhalese girls? The recent physical assault on the District Court Judge in Matara by army personnel demonstrated how the militarisation of Sri Lankan society is bound to unfold as post-Nandikadal Sri Lanka moves on. The repercussions over the compulsory leadership programme for university entrants is yet another example. It is clear that the concept is definitely not that of the Minister of Higher Education, and that given the Rajapaksa administration’s power structure, the Minister is simply ill-disposed to implement such a decision on his own initiative. Thus it can only be read that this decision emanates from the highest command of the Sri Lankan defence administration, with the clearly apparent but cautiously hidden political agenda of making a generation of young educated individuals who will dare not raise a single finger or a single word against the Government and its defence establishment.

In hindsight vis-à-vis the rape allegations, one cannot afford to forget the precedents. It is a list of shamelessness. Thanks to the legal action supported by the then Executive, the world knows about the Krishanty Kumaraswamy case. Unfortunately, even under a command of the armed forces that prioritised peace negotiations and political reform, such a horrendous atrocity could not be avoided. The list of cases with next to no proof, and are therefore not taken into account, may indeed extend from Point Pedro to Dondra Head (and maybe further down the sea), but then, there’s the Haiti case. This is one that none of us Sri Lankans, especially Sinhalese, can afford to ignore and turn a blind eye. The Sinhalese are known to have short memory, but this writer hopes few would forget the fact that the UN shipped the Sri Lankan peacekeeping contingent in Haiti back home over charges of sexual abuse, especially on minors languishing in refugee camps. To this year and very day of Our Lord, the military and its political leadership has not said a single word about this black mark on our relations with the UN as a responsible member state. The government has not denied the charges. Nor has there been any news of a court marshal – which indeed warrants some publicity – at least in the state media – in order to demonstrate the credible, law-abiding and responsible nature of the defence establishment. Rien du tout!

A reflection of the issue of alleged ‘war crimes’ and calls from the West for ‘impartial’ investigations is incomplete in the absence of a discussion of some pertinent international implications. All through military history, the usage of rape as a weapon of war, or as a means of celebrating war victory, have been common.  The military forces of the world’s foremost superpower, The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, could be considered as the most experienced in this respect. Their feats, especially in terms of rape and use of local women for sexual pleasure of troops in Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere speak tons about their apparent commitment to human rights and accountability. The same goes for the torture of war victims. One may recall US military personnel (in one of the most publicised cases female military personnel) having a good time humiliating and abusing Iraqi prisoners. The military forces of the Zionist state are also known for such feats. The same applies for the military of our former colonial masters, whose unruly past dates back to a good few centuries and covers all the continents on the face of this planet. The military forces of our powerful, overpowering neighbour and regional superpower, whose diplomats love to finger-point at us to get the 13th constitutional amendment implemented in full, are even worse, and many an insurgency and popular uprising in that great land have been suppressed by acts of repression using the most violent weapons of torture and rape.

A point worthy of being made crystal clear is as follows: no one, absolutely no physical or moral person in any foreign government or supranational body, can afford to finger-point the Sri Lankan military for torturing LTTE prisoners, abusing female cadres and civilian Tamil women after the war victory and engaging in related (and so far unreported) atrocities. This is a game where everybody, including those Western ‘protectors’ of human rights and civil liberties, has lots of bloodstains in their hands. Them accusing us is identical to one criminal accusing another. Following this line of thought, it must be made clear that if the high command of the Sri Lankan military, its political leadership or the Head of State are to be charged internationally, or if the West is to take coercive action of any form against Sri Lanka, they first have to set a precedent for such action by clearing up their own backyards, by launching similar procedures on the most powerful military forces in the world, which are under their control and command. This by no means is intended to imply that the Government of Sri Lanka should comfortably forget that rape by military personnel took place in Eelam War IV and that acts violence amounting to crimes of war did occur. It is in the best interest of the Rajapaksa administration and the wider Sri Lankan community to bring the perpetrators of these excesses into book, ensure severe punishments, and most importantly, to record, in the best possible manner, all the atrocities that took place, especially in terms of rape. Such recorded information should be stored in the National Archives, and be made part of public knowledge. The story of Eelam War IV in its most authentic and critical form should be taught to young people from across the ethnic divide (especially Sinhalese males and females), with no cowardly hiding of facts. It is only such a ‘call a spade a spade’ attitude that will enable Sri Lanka to regain its own moral standards at national level, any pressure from the West or elsewhere put aside.

Moreover, we must never forget that the world is an unequal place, and that the rich and mighty have extra means that the poor and feeble do not have. This reality strongly applies to the world of international politics. As Barack Hussein Obama walks up to the speaker’s podium at the UN General Assembly, all the chairs in the caucus are likely to be occupied, with the press, UN staff, observers, interns and God knows who else gaping through the balcony and every available loophole. When Percy Mahendra ‘Mahinda’ Rajapaksa walks to the same podium, the audience reaction was captured in a photo taken at last year’s UN General Assembly published in a Sri Lankan news website not long ago. It showed that more than half (or even more than a good three quarter) of the blue seats were empty, with a senior Sri Lankan cabinet minister drowsing away. In terms of framing foreign policy, the fundamental inequalities and disparities in the international system (symbolised in the most telling manner in the audience presence at UN speeches by national leaders) are living realities that we need to take into account, in the best interest of our country and our people (read people of all ethnic, religious, sociocultural, linguistic and economic groups).

Patriotism is indeed a driving force, and as a community, we need to cultivate the values of patriotism, and ensure that future generations grow up with a deep love and affection for their motherland. But patriotic thought should not be shaped and limited by the narrow boundaries of ethnocentrism; this can only be done by providing constitutional provisions – that are eventually enacted in practice – to ensure that the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected, so that all citizens feel at home in Lanka. The recent attack on a political meeting in Jaffna, in the presence of TNA MPs, and the public secret that the defence high command in Jaffna has been advised by his superiors ‘eka demelekutavath Yapané oluwa ussanna denna epa’ (‘don’t allow a single Tamil to raise his head in Jaffna’) and the military high command’s clearly apparent intent to keep not only the North and East, but also the entire country under control, by providing military training for bright youngsters, the military taking over mayoral duties and many other non-military chores, hacking email accounts and computers of opposition politicians and foreign diplomats – are all proof that the contrary is currently underway in Sri Lanka. It is thus made clear that the word ‘patriotism’ as used by the present regime, is one that strictly speaking implies a Sinhala (and most importantly) pro-government patriotism. In other words, you could well be Sinhala and Buddhist, but if your political views align with the UNP or JVP, you are no longer a patriot. The accusation could even amount to the level of considering you a clear threat to national security and a quintessential persona no grata. In this context, the only logical conclusion one can reach is that we Sinhalese who support the ills of the present regime are driving Sri Lanka towards very tough times.

From Krishanthy to Chenmani, gross atrocities committed by the military occurred under the Kumaratunga administration. In fairness to President Kumaratunga, her insights into the management of foreign policy and international affairs, together with her deployment of able hands in handling the foreign affairs portfolio (and erroneously managed cases aside), we were by and large able to avoid debacles similar to what’s happening today. Steps were taken to investigate the gory deeds, and ensure that legal action was taken (though this writer firmly believes that tougher measures were indeed warranted – as what we do need as a nation is a thorough revamping of our morals and value system/s – in a sincere mannerism – thereby shunning the fake heap of morals in which many of us take immense pleasure and pride).

The Patriotic, The Liberal and Prospects for Lanka
The final point this writer wishes to mention is that with regards to present-day realm of Sri Lankan politics, one can distinguish two main colliding groups expounding their positions and trying to overrun each another. The first group is composed of the liberals, i.e. the cosmopolitan folks, who have seen the world, are widely travelled, more open-minded than the majority of their fellow countrymen and women, and thus uphold principles of inclusion and accommodation. In their cosmopolitanism, they are inclined to give little importance to patriotism and to overlapping concerns of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some of them are also consistently prone to view the Sinhala Buddhist polity as the villain in the ethnic question, and their perspectives on the issue are essentially black and white. The second group, as a Sri Lankan political scientist once quipped in a discussion with this writer, literally wrap themselves in the national flag, are unquestioning in their patriotism, believe that the Sinhala Buddhist sociocultural tradition is the dominant discourse in Sri Lankan public life and that it should continue to be so. They also have no problems with ethnic minorities being downgraded to second-class citizens, as they see themselves as inherently superior to the minorities, and take pride in their Sinhalese identity. Accusations against the military are anathema to the second group, and they are bound to do everything within their means to protect their insular and majoritarian views of Sri Lankan society and politics.

What is frighteningly absent is a viable middle ground, where both above-mentioned ‘extremes’ are read in a critical perspective. Sri Lanka is a country with a Sinhala Buddhist ethnic majority, hence the dominance of the Sinhala Buddhist discourse. Sri Lanka is also a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, and the dominant position of the Sinhala Buddhist social, political and cultural discourse should not infringe the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Sri Lanka is a multi-lingual country, and while taking all possible steps to ensure the teaching, learning and propagation of respective national languages, national cohesion requires the development of a single common language that belongs to each and every linguistic group, through which people can communicate across ethnic, religious, linguistic, social and cultural boundaries. That language is, unarguably, the English language, which requires the status of official language, and should be actively used by the state to the maximum. In a country like Sri Lanka, this common language should be used, for instance, when filling in civil status documents such as identity cards, birth, marriage and death certificates. As a forward-looking multi-ethnic nation, Sri Lanka ought to take prompt and steadfast steps to do away with its ethnically segregated system of education, which exists even in the most high-profile seats of education managed by non-state boards of governors. In order to address existing social and sociocultural prejudices, a good starting point would be a policy that gradually puts an end to gender-segregated education, and introducing a system of quotas (contrary to certain EU-member states who shun quotas for parity) in order to ensure that parity is respected in all levels of public service, the private sector and, most importantly, in electoral politics. In par with such reforms, existing laws on homosexuality require prompt amending, with the legalisation of homosexuality and the legal acceptance of same-sex unions, coupled by state-sponsored campaigns to strongly counter existing homophobia and stigma over homosexuality.

As progressive reforms are enacted, Sri Lanka has to ensure that her national sovereignty and territorial integrity are protected. Not only should the defence establishment be strengthened, but it should also be better equipped with multilingual specialists, increased military intelligence within and beyond Sri Lanka’s shores, and sustained efforts at transforming the ethnic composition of the armed forces. Symbols of nationhood, while outlining the dominant sociocultural discourse, should be shaped in such a manner that all Sri Lankans can cultivate a strong sentiment of patriotism, without the use of governmental force (which is the Rajapaksa administration’s mantra to promote patriotism among ethnic minorities). The National Anthem, for instance, should be available in both Sinhala and Tamil, and citizens may choose between the two languages. Given the scars of a thirty year war, the Northern and Eastern Provinces need to be provided with a viable system of provincial governance based on the devolution of powers, with local people’s representatives enjoying the freedom to engage in their politics without any interference, violence or hindrance. While matters of national importance and interest are managed by the Centre, issues pertaining to the everyday lives of Northern and Eastern people are best left to themselves. Symbolic acts such as enabling them to give pride of place to their regional flag (the cases of Scotland and Wales could be analogous here), providing more amenities for the learning and propagation of the Tamil language, opening up pathways for investments and exchanges would help Colombo avoid a return to any form of violence and atrocities in future.

The absence of such a dominant and consistent national policy that simultaneously espouses a PPC approach, i.e. Patriotism, Pluralism and Cosmopolitanism, means disaster to present-day Sri Lanka. Economically, the island will end up in further enslavement to the IMF. Investments will not see the increase predicted by the Government, as a political climate of violence and atrocity thrives. On the international front, Sri Lanka will continue to get repeatedly hammered, and there is indeed the vague but non-negligible possibility of excessive (and coercive) external interference in Sri Lanka’s internal politics.

Long Reads

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  • Tara

    [Edited out.]

    Is this the best the liberal democractic Sinhala middle class could offer to the cause of justice and for the betterment of the man kind in general ? I think your arguments raise extremely important questions. The Sinhala middle class is now looking for scapegoats to pass on the blame of these crimes-wash their hands- and put the pressure back on the Tamils to agree on a ‘political settlement’. Here we go around the merry go again!!

    “It is in the best interest of the Rajapaksa administration and the wider Sri Lankan community to bring the perpetrators of these excesses into book, ensure severe punishments, and most importantly, to record, in the best possible manner, all the atrocities that took place, especially in terms of rape.”- How would one expect the ‘Rajapaksha administration’ to bring the ‘pepetrators’ when they themselves are the who gave orders/led/ideological political leadership to the podiyans who carried out the crimes. So Rajapakshas, Shavendra Silvas, Fonsekas off the hook. It is ‘win-win’ for everyone You think. Tamils have to be happy you would say/ No we will not. We saved the Sinhalese from ‘international conspiracies’ by the ‘hypocritic west’. What an achivement by the Sinhala middle class !!!

    I also found interesting reading your advice to Rajapaksha on the selection of foreign diplomats to defend the country. it has been outsourced to Bell Potinger in UK. [Edited out.]

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Congratulations to the writer and GV for this essay which demonstrates a clear capacity for independently ‘thinking through’. It marks an admirable attempt at clearing out a middle path; a space long overgrown by weeds. The final point on ‘the PPC approach’ is a minor tour de force. Reading it leaves one a little more hopeful that the educated younger generation can and will remould Sri Lanka into a better place.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    That having been said, three points of dissent, if I may:

    1. The “Eka Demalekutavath…” quote is hearsay. it is also misleading I believe. Check out the Channel 4 flick. Even at their worst, the soldiers do not use the term “Demala/Demalu”. The terms used are “[expletive deleted] Koti” and “Terra”. This wouldn’t have been so in the 1980s.

    2. The issue of gay rights: I have no problems with it but given the political problems that Clinton and Obama have encounteed on such issues in a far more liberal society, I wouldn’t recommend its inclusion in any agenda for change in the near future. I do’t think it would fly in post-Tahrir Egypt either!

    3. President CBK: Just as she was elected in ’94 on a ‘Give Peace a Chance’ ticket, she was re-elected in Dec 1999 on an anti-Tiger wave. However, she inducted the Norwegians, doublecrossed the Karuna rebellion, turned her back on the 9/11 opening, endorsed the PTOMS and paradoxiucally granted the JVP 40 seats. All of which combined to create the ideological climate in which MR was elected. If anyone blew it for progressivism and liberal cosmopolitanism, it was CBK — by failing to seize the time and defeat the Tigers.

    • Janaki Perumal

      /Even at their worst, the soldiers do not use the term “Demala/Demalu”. – Dr Dayan Jayatilleka/

      Thank you for agreeing those who were in the channel 4 crimes were really sl soldiers that your fellow sl gov intellectuals and UN representatives negate either as fake or as a fabricated Tamil diaspora video. My only regret is that you would have said this in Geneva in 2009. It is not late anyway.

      • Sarath Fernando

        Well said Janaki.

        It is debatable whether the curse of the land is more attributable to the arrogant, simpleminded, myopic, self-serving politicians or the two-tongued, spineless, pseudo-academics cheering from the sidelines for pittance.

        DJ’s sentiments, for instance, has covered the whole spectrum from “of course we demonstrably met the just-means of war”, to “who in their right mind would want to know the truth — we don’t care a rat’s ass” and now the implicit, slip-of-the-tongue confession contradicting the State’s position that you rightly point out. What a show of solid conviction!

        How I wish the academics worthy of their mettle would rise from their slumber to educate the population against such self-serving pseudo-patriotism of politicians and their pretend-academic cohorts and influence them towards the path for the long-term stability and dignity of this once-proud nation.

        God Bless us all.

      • Dr Dayan jayatilleka

        Janaki, even if every frame of the C4 film is authentic, and I’m not saying they are, it does not in the slightest negate the stand I took in Geneva in 2009; a stand which included a refusal during my entire term, to defend or excuse the Trinco 5, ACF 17 and Lasantha killings. If I had to defend Sri Lanka all over again AGAINST a West-sponsored resolution, I’d do it, and that sentiment does not contradict anything that Chaminda Weerawardhana has written here!

      • Janaki Perumal

        Dr Dayan jayatilleka
        Thank you for your response.

        However your statement, “If I had to defend Sri Lanka all over again AGAINST a West-sponsored resolution, I’d do it,..” implies that your priority is much on defending sri lanka against western sponsored resolution than the indiscriminate massacres of innocent Tamil civilians by the government (of which actions you defended and for which actions you made the anti-western countries to pass a congratulatory resolution). Yes, LTTE was the culprits too in the killings, but none -even LTTE’s sympathizers or the Tamil diaspora- went on congratulating LTTE.

        Further, I have to remind here that you did not complain when sri lanka cohabited with the West in the past three decades in making the killing machine with the western weaponry and went hand in hand in banning the LTTE. You did not complain when sri lanka manipulated the ‘Global Terrorism’ carrot that the West invented for killing its own citizens. Even the West and UN decisively kept a blind eye when these killings went on.

        What your statement, “even if every frame of the C4 film is authentic, and I’m not saying they are, it does not in the slightest negate the stand I took in Geneva in 2009″ conveys to me is, confronting the West even knowingly for a wrong reason is more important than the suffering of thousands of innocent people. This is the last rationalization that I could expect from a Marxist Intellectual. May be that sort of surrealistic world we are living in.

        BTW, when you say, “Check out the Channel 4 flick. Even at their worst, the soldiers do not use the term “Demala/Demalu””, I am unable to read “Even if every frame of the C4 film is authentic, and I’m not saying they are..”

        Anyway, thank you for taking time to clarify.

      • Thambi

        What would you call using the LTTE flag as the Tamil flag, worshiping and celebrating dead LTTE cadres, etc. if not congratulating the LTTE? This is what Tamil culture is today — it’s beyond redeemable.

      • Lanka Liar

        If you want to defend Sri Lanka first defend the truth that is the best defense that you can provide. Try to get at the truth, try to speak the truth, and respect the truth how painful it may be. Do not conveniently turn away from the truth. If you do that you can fly the Lion flag high or it is going to be a LIEon flag.

    • Chaminda Weerawardhana

      Dr Jayatilleka,

      Thanks very much for the comment, and apologies for the delay to comment back. As for the three points you mention in the second comment, I find them both interesting and insightful.

      1. I would be delighted to assume that the statement in question is hearsay, and ‘tant mieux’ if that is the case. But news from the North is often disturbing and anti-democratic forces seem to operate – visibly endorsed from above – prompting a link between the said statement and what’s going on in the North. The Govt’s commitment (or lack thereof) on reviving the North (and East) can only be demonstrated by action, and one can only hope that the positions of pluralists and those with an understanding of Tamil society, culture and politics within the MR administration will prevail above the ‘others’.

      2. I do agree with you in terms of the feasibility of having LGBT rights on the agenda. The post-Tahrir and USA analogies surely say a lot. However, post-Tahrir or not, Egypt remains a country with a huge Islamic majority under military rule…which doesn’t sound like the best of circumstances to bring up LGBT rights. The USA, with its powerful religious tradition – replete with Christian fundamentalism in a myriad of forms, is indeed a place where LGBT rights have been tough to gain – as the case of NYC, which had to wait until last week to legalise same-sex unions, shows. In SL, this issue is definitely bound to earn the wrath of many a group, and I do understand the apprehensions of policymakers in addressing it anytime soon. But if there’s sufficient political resolve, it could enter the political agenda and go through parliament. The Rajapaksa administration – with its two thirds & more – has lately shown its ability to pass legislation that potentially goes against the dominant cultural discourse – the Casino Business Regulation Bill – which prevailed over JHU, JVP and all other opponents is a telling example (readers may kindly note that I do not wish to draw any parallel between casinos and LGBT rights, and the casino analogy is solely intended at referring to the legislative hurdles when passing controversial bills).

      3. The CBK comment was what I found the most interesting. It is indeed food for thought, and is worthy of being discussed in detail in a separate article – which I will do pretty soon.

  • Janaki Perumal

    Thank you for a sane reading stating the reality beyond the rattling noises from both sides. Yet, a typical hypothesis holds. “All got started with LTTE”. Gal Oya, Seruwela and Weli Oya sl government sponsored colonizations did not start with LTTE nor the Sinhala only rule. We conveniently forget about 1958 to 1977 state sponsored terrorism on Tamil speaking people.

    Whether we like it or not, it is the general assumption -even among the Sinhala intellectuals- that terrorism got started with Tamil militancy, and the only terror that sl government might have done was what happened in 2009. Yet Tamil militancy was an unavoidable response to sl government sponsored terrorism. Air bombing and military executions on the Tamil areas were brought the Bombings in the South. This is not to defend such bombings by any means. However we conveniently want to start with LTTE and really fear to use the word, “state terrorism” as it one or other way put as an -undesirable- element with those who did and still do it.

    For many in South, the state sponsored plus military and sanga backed Sinhala colonizations in traditional Tamil lands are equal to individual Tamil middle class migration -mainly due to the intolerable situation in Northeast- to Wellawatta; unfortunately, it is not. Now Tamils have been pushed as a minority in the East. And, even the Sinhala liberal intellectuals talk about the North, but not what happened to Tamils in the East. Now the colonization in the North goes full swing. Let’s wait for another twenty years to speak about it.

    Said this, I really appreciate the writer for bringing up Krishanthy and Chemmani cases that we all might have forgotten in the wake of eradicating LTTE terrorism.

    • Chaminda Weerawardhana

      Ms Perumal,

      Thanks for your comment – and I do agree – and I’m sure many people out there will do too – with your reference to the post-Independence discriminatory practices. The popular debates on the Sinhala-Tamil issue are like musical chairs, with no end or common ground in sight.
      About more & more Sinhalese moving to the North – I’ve read a couple of documents on this issue in the media – and I only hope that policymakers understand the trickiness of the issue. The prevalent argument that if Tamils can live all over SL, Sinhalese can too – in my view, is nomenclature, and not good enough to guide official govt policy – the scars of war, and the Tamil question as a whole have resulted in ‘fire’ – and the worst one could do is to add more ‘hay’ into it. Hence the necessity of being mindful – guaranteeing the rights of Northern people – and taking measures to make them feel good in a united SL are the priorities (while avoiding any repercussions with the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist block). It is only after this step that people can really move freely (especially the Sinhalese heading northwards). This definitely is not a time to be putting the cart before the horse…..

      • Janaki Perumal

        Mr. Weerawardhana
        thank you taking my comment in the right way I intended. personally I do not have any problem with the argument that anyone can freely move and settle anywhere in the country. My note was on the government sponsored colonizations with the intention to change the demography. I am talking of the issues that Tamils from Northeast see
        They are real, but unfortunate that extremists at the both ends of ethnic-rift spectrum wants to read

        /The popular debates on the Sinhala-Tamil issue are like musical chairs, with no end or common ground in sight./
        fully agreed. On the other hand, deep philosophical discourses end with our personal intellectual gratification within the academic premises. We need to find a middle ground as couriers between the pure philosophical pedagogic academy and the popular rugby field.

      • Off the Cuff

        Dear Janaki Perumal,

        You say 1. “Sinhala colonizations in traditional Tamil lands”
        2. “My note was on the government sponsored colonizations with the intention to change the demography”

        What are these Traditional Tamil Lands?
        Even during the Dutch occupation of parts of Lanka, the Kandyan Kingdom extended up to Elephant Pass. So what are these Traditional Tamil Lands? Is it an untouchable de-facto Eelam?

        How just is it to claim 35% of Land in the North and East and 60% of the Coast Line and the integral 200 mile territorial waters and economic zone as an exclusive domain of a Tamil Minority of less than 10%?

        CIA fact book gives the following data. Population 21,283,913 (July 2011 est.). ethnic mix – Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)

        Tamils were settled by the government in lands hitherto occupied by the Sinhalese in the hill country, converting the Sinhala peasantry to a landless entity and changing the Demography of the Hill Country permanently. Add this land, now occupied by Tamils, to what you claim to be “Traditionally Tamil Lands” and justify your claim for over 40% of land and 60% of coast line and the territorial waters to a Minority of less than 10%.

        Can’t you see that this unreasonable claim to the land is one of the major factors causing division and resentment?

        Over 80% of Land in Lanka is owned by the State and the JUST method of allocating this scarce resource to the citizens of Lanka is on a per capita basis. Every state sponsored development that requires allocation of land should hence be per Capita based where ever such developments take place (North, South, East or West). You should read about the Ethnic Integration Policy of Singapore. It has been in operation for two decades yet the Tamils there don’t complain.

        You also state “Thank you for agreeing those who were in the channel 4 crimes were really sl soldiers that your fellow sl gov intellectuals and UN representatives negate either as fake or as a fabricated Tamil diaspora video”

        That it is overwhelmingly fake, is beyond question. Even if it had an iota of truth within, the biased reporting (both video and commentary) blots it out.

        You should read Dr. Noel Nadesan’s open letter to ABC Australia TV. Dr. Nadesan is the Editor of the Tamil Newspaper Uthayam and has been its Editor for 14 years.

        Here is an excerpt.
        … Ch 4 showed images of a young man who was tied to a tree, threatened with a knife and subsequently killed. I was told by sources in the Wanni that this was an LTTE operation and pictures were taken for propaganda purposes by LTTE. Have a close look and you will find among the so called soldiers a man in slippers. Sri Lankan soldiers never go out in slippers when they go out on operations.
        end excerpt.

        He has also written about Suthanthipuram, the first NFZ. He says the LTTE moved their Radio station and Artillery units in to it, to fire at Army points.

        He has also described how the LTTE was firing from the close proximity of the Hospital and makeshift hospitals and cites as witnesses the AGA Parthipan and Dr. Shanmugarajah.

        The full letter is available at

        The C4 showed a damaged hospital in the LTTE controlled area. It was strange to see able bodied wounded males in Civilian clothing within the hospital precincts. It was well known that the LTTE forced conscripted ALL able bodied men and even women and children including UN employees to fight in the war front. Yet NOT A SINGLE LTTE wounded or Dead was in sight and this was the ONLY hospital within LTTE controlled area in the War Zone.

        The C4 was a Diaspora project. It contained mainly film footage from the LTTE “Truth Soldiers”. A two man propaganda unit attached to each group of 100 cadres. It used selected government film footage but excluded footage captured from the LTTE and published by the Government showing Tamil civilians being marched off at gun point to work in the war front and LTTE Cadres dressed exclusively in Civilian Clothing, manning armoured vehicles equipped with high powered machine guns. Once they get wounded or die they become instant civilians at the hospital.

        C4 has an Axe to Grind with the SL govt for the expulsion of its team from Lanka. The Diaspora is still waving the terrorist flag.

        Adelle Balasingham is the Highest Ranking LTTE Terrorist living in freedom today. She was the first Female leader of the LTTE and the creator of the Baby Brigade and was a close confidante of Prabhakaran. She has to answer to the atrocities perpetrated by her cadres and for sending young Tamil children to war. Yet she is living in comfort and freedom in the UK. The Tamil Diaspora is the least concerned with what she did to Tamil Children as evident from their silence on the issue.

        Are the Wanni Children any different to the Tamil Diaspora children and is not worthy of getting Justice?

  • ordinary lankan

    Both sinhalese and tamils need to move beyond the tribal mindset – and this can be achieved simply by learning the lessons of this 30 year old war.

    I found the point about under-privileged youth having to fight and kill each other deeply moving. This is the kind of writing that can transcend the divisions of hate.

    So long as our speech is moved by anger,frustration and negativity we will simply keep turning the old wheel of hatred and suffer for it.

    There is a duty upon ordinary people – powerless nobodies also to speak with the mindfulness that every word uttered has effects and a capacity for good or ill. If we cannot say anything positive we might as well keep quiet.

    I salute this piece of writing – it sobers our reflection on what happened without falling into the extremes of either brushing it under the carpet or crying for vengeance.

  • jansee

    Dayan said:

    “Janaki, even if every frame of the C4 film is authentic, and I’m not saying they are, it does not in the slightest negate the stand I took in Geneva in 2009; a stand which included a refusal during my entire term, to defend or excuse the Trinco 5, ACF 17 and Lasantha killings. If I had to defend Sri Lanka all over again AGAINST a West-sponsored resolution, I’d do it, and that sentiment does not contradict anything that Chaminda Weerawardhana has written here!”

    Well, at the end of the day, it is tantamount to saying “you fight your war and we fight our war”. You had your day and we will have our day. The blood of those innocent civilians, the more than 40,000 shelled to shreds would not end with your 2009 resolution as the final chapter. The continuation of that is: still written. It is not a closed chapter as you would want to assume.

  • Lakshan

    Good Article.

    In fact fostering true patriotism among minorities cannot be achieved by coercing them to “demonstrate” against Channel 4 as shown on State television . It is unfortunate that those in higher echelons of power in Sri Lanka are driven by basic political calculations , pandering to the majority voting bloc, rather than taking concrete measures to avert another insurgency , meaning solving deep rooted ethnic,social and political issues.

  • eureka

    Thank you for a great service – hope more youngsters(and oldies too) will join your call quickly enough before the Sinhala masses are too brainwashed, and the people in the Northeast are too degenerated, beyond redemption:
    Why education matters for global security, Irina Bokova(Director General, UNESCO) 1 March 2011: ‘’ Education must rise on the agenda of peace building. We know the wrong type of education can fuel conflict. The use of education systems to foster hatred has contributed to the underlying causes of conflicts, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka, but also in Guatemala and Sudan.’’
    Why Sirimavo refused to visit Jaffna after 1964 cycloneBy Neville Jayaweera, 18 January 2009:
    ”Building a consciousness of nationhood is not a responsibility that can be left to politicians and constitutional lawyers. …. It is pre-eminently an educational task, to be initiated at the level of our schools.”

    Our academics have an important role to play in stopping the slide of the country down authoritarianism.

  • Upal

    I agree with Tara. The greatest threat to stability in SL is the current regime – that espouses tyrannical methods to achieve its ends – and a small coterie of high-profile sycophants, one of whom can found in this very thread. How do you make amends after killing 40,000 people in cold blood? By selling off the country to China, via defense pacts and development projects? By tripling the size of the military in occupied areas? By entreating the sycophants to downplay all manner of atrocities via public venues such as this one and BBC’s “Hard Talk?” By militarizing the universities?

    Regime change is the only solution. The present regime needs to go, as does its band of sycophants, who only bring disrepute to Sri Lanka’s image overseas, what with their preposterous denials and finger- pointing at century-old Western atrocities. Diplomacy is often shaped by perception, whether it be at the United Nations or the Colombo Stock Exchange. We cannot rightly call ourselves as civilized if we let war criminals and their sycophant accessories have the upper hand in our nation’s future.

    • wijayapala

      Dear Upal,

      How do you make amends after killing 40,000 people in cold blood?

      From where did you get the 40,000 from? Of that number, how many did the LTTE kill? What have the people who had bankrolled the LTTE done to make amends for all the Tamils killed by the LTTE?

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Upal,

      Is Adelle Balasingham a War Criminal?

      If she is, can you call the UK civilised for harbouring her?

      If not, who else can be called a war criminal?

  • Justine

    Everyone can be diplomatic but one should speak the truth and it is not Sinhalese who were killed but Tamils, Tamils all the time even prior Prabakaran’s time. All this nice diplomatic discussions are too late and we tamils shall never never forget what happened as the Jews will never in their life forget or forgive the Nazis and of Nazi German period.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear Janaki,

    Of course I did not complain when Sri Lanka secured the support of the West or the West supported Sri Lanka.I am not anti-western and indeed the Sinhala chauvinists consider me Westernised, which is not untrue.

    My problem with the West is when it intervenes in other countries which have done it no harm; when it ignores national sovereignty and displays neo-colonial attitudes. This is so when it bombed Kosovo and invaded Iraq ( both of which I opposed).

    • Janaki Perumal

      /My problem with the West is when it intervenes in other countries which have done it no harm; when it ignores national sovereignty and displays neo-colonial attitudes. This is so when it bombed Kosovo and invaded Iraq ( both of which I opposed)./

      I am 100% in with, “This is so when it bombed Kosovo and invaded Iraq ( both of which I opposed)”

      However, that can not bee shown as a reason to defend another wrongdoing. Here in my opinion, – pardon me- that was and is what you have done and do. Especially as a petty Marxist, I find it troubling me.

      Further, when it comes to such attitude, West or East all are same. Look at what Chinese does to Tibetans, Uyghurs and their own Ai Weiwei kinds. Look at what Russians did for their Cossacks. Look what Indians to their Kashmir and Northeast people. In the name of leftist ideology, we still do not want to comment. It’s troubling. Such of our mentality brings to defend even thousands of innocent deaths in the name of winning terrorism and keeping the integrity of the country by force.

      If we look even people who want to help Northern Tamils at this situation by walking do not want to talk of how pathetic is the political and social life of Tamils nor want to accept there was a huge lost, but all they (can) post on their Trail sri lanka, “made himself a promise that when the ethinic conflict in Sri lanka came to an end he would walk the length of the country as a mark of his commitment to peace.” Really? Yes, LTTE is gone and war is won, but do these people really believe that the ethinic conflict in Sri lanka came to an end? Unfortunately this “LTTE gone = the ethinic conflict in Sri lanka came to an end” simple equation is what still even in the mind of good Samaritans. In such environment, I wish people like you -who wrote Che Guevara as his hero in his high school- would have done better talking the truth. Alas! you have chosen one of the two evils – sl government Vs. LTTE – to defend to the core even at the fathoms of heavy human life loss and in the expense of humanity. It was and still is a shock. As a Minister of Varatharaja Perumal’s provincial government then in late 80’s, I thought you had something different to make a change. (Let’s forget for a moment about Varatharaja Perumal’s Indian sponsored Tamil National Army that forcefully conscripted children to fight LTTE). Unfortunately, we see defending one of the worst atrocities against the humanity at this point. I think this is what bothers people like me, who did or do not support LTTE though strongly feel Tamils should have their self-determination rights. People like you, Vasudeva Nanayakara who defended the actions of military last week among pro-lankan Tamils diaspora in Europe and Jehan Perera who only yesterday wrote in The Island on how to woo anti-LTTE diaspora for building up the country and tried in Europe for such bridging without any note on redressing real wounds and worsening real situation what TNA MP Sumanthiran talked in the parliment few days back that can be seen through DBS Jeyaraja’s transcurrents.

      It is unfortunate that even leftist sinhala intellectuals to benevolent Samaritans want to work on a status quo that ‘LTTE was the core of the issue, and since it is gone and now work on with the victors’ charity and the ever present majority’s plans’

      Sorry to say, this is neither right nor will resolve anything.

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        Janaki, Janaki, Janaki, maybe you should ask yourself why every single regime that is considered or considers itself Marxist, from Cuba to Vietnam, supports Sri Lanka on all these issues? My position is no different from that of Cuba, Venezuela etc. So who should I check with on whether my position is anti-marxist and not in keeping with my earlier Marxist positions? You or Havana?

    • Burning_Issue

      “My problem with the West is when it intervenes in other countries which have done it no harm; when it ignores national sovereignty and displays neo-colonial attitudes. This is so when it bombed Kosovo and invaded Iraq ( both of which I opposed).”

      Many in the west concur with you too; more on the point of invasion of Iraq than bombing Kosovo. The poignant point about Kosovo is that, the West took measures against the Serbian regime that massacred the Muslims! There were not much noise from the Islamic counties but the West established order and brought the perpetrators to the IC Court.

      The Iraq invasion was orchestrated by the Bush regime; one may argue that Tony Blair should have taken a different path. One has to understand the transatlantic politics before one can judge on the British position at that time. Basically, there was no way that Britain were to stand idle when the US was engaged in a major operation such as that. My view is that, Tony Blair had no choice, knowing that, he tried to incorporate the Middle East Peace process as a condition for British participation. But the Bush administration was prepared to go it alone, which would have been catastrophic in terms of world order! However, the point is that, the West is ok when Sri Lanka jumps on the bandwagon of the Bush proclamation that “you are either with us or not” “The war against terror” and all else comes second. When it suits you the West is OK!

      How do you reconcile National Sovereignty with international bodies such as the UN & International Criminal Court? What are the roles of such bodies? How do they exercise their mandate when it comes to war crimes and crimes against humanity? How does one enforce the Geneva Convention? Do you think that National Sovereignty should insulate war criminals within a nation? I think that you use the term neo-colonial very loosely indeed. The West was criticised by many quarters for allowing the Rwandan massacres to take place; I am sure you would have been one of them! But, when it comes to Sri Lanka, you act irresponsibly, why?

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        Funny you should mention Rwanda, Burning_Issue, because my stance on national sovereignty, accountability and international inquiries, is the same as that of Paul Kagame, whom I admire!

  • Lanka Liar

    A true Lankan article written in Lankan language. Little bit of every thing here and there, trying subtly to coverup things, selectively looking at things, “check you before blaming me” – theory, little justification of the most heinous crimes. If you look at others backyard before casting judgement on anything you will be just looking at backyards and backwards. You can justify the killings by highlighting the backwardness of the perpetrators think just for one moment the ones who try to put this under the carpets, the goon rats , raj paks , Ko Ko nuts, Ko Ko Nes, even the Dyans are they backward or uneducated or come from the lower strata of the society. It is a pity there are people who are not prepared to look at this violations, some prepared to look at some but not the other, some just pretend as nothing has happened. Trinco 5 and Lasantha 1 are special but not Muthur 18 Mulivaikaal 100000, Binthunuweva 26, 1983-4000 1973-2000 1958-10000 and now 35 every month are not worthy incidents. What Sri Lanka needs is civilization not any thing else. What Tamils need is justice not any thing else. Just give this back to them the country will be back on track. But who can – nobody at this stage. As long as there are people to protect the criminals crimes will multiply. We will be just looking at other man’s backyard. I want every body to think the crime that was shown in Channel 4 is only what was filmed. What about the volume that were filmed but not come out and what was not filmed. Is it less in number and severity . All Sri Lankans know the answer. Only a few will say it others will just look at other mans backyard. Keep looking Lanka that all you can do.

    • Shanuki Perera

      Trying to cover up what? and what are you insinuating in your reference to ‘low caste’ (are you trying to bring back caste differences into politics)? you call for justice for Tamils, but you don’t explain how to get there? Arrogance, coupled with anger, despite its justifiability in this case, doesn’t take us far….

      • Lanka Liar

        “Trying to cover up what?” – covering up mass murder rape torture by giving reasons for, and justifications for, casting doubts, suspecting, talking around, expressing helplessness, comparing with other mass murders in other countries in some time somewhere. Whether it is LTTE or SLTE or any body “If you commit a crime you must do the time”. History politics geography religion culture patriotism nationalism even security any of these things cannot be an excuse for committing crime – rape murder torture etc. How many have been committed against the innocent Tamils for how long. Some of them in day light documented. Has any one brought to trials. tried and found not guilty / guilty, you can even pardon them for this heroic acts but try them first. That is the minimum justice that you can give to any victim let alone Tamils. That is the bare minimum for any civilized country. Rather than doing this many try to say that this is a humanitarian operation. Is murder rape torture, humanitarian operation.

        I quote from the article
        “Throughout its existence, the LTTE was composed of Tamil youth from impoverished (often low-caste) layers of Tamil society. The young people who enlisted largely did so in the absence of any other alternatives. When children were forcefully conscripted, parents and family members simply had no choice. We must never forget this social dimension, which shares a parallel with the social composition of Sri Lanka’s state armed forces. The armed forces are largely composed of Sinhalese youth from underdeveloped rural areas, in many a case with low O level results (often failing key subjects) and in a tremendously large number of cases, they end up joining the army in the absence of any other choices.”
        Did you see the comment those who joined the LTTE are low caste but those who joined the army are low GCE (ol). Who brings the caste now. Do you understand.
        Do you understand why now. If you cant I cant help you.

        “you call for justice for Tamils, but you don’t explain how to get there?”
        I am not here to explain how to get there, because so many have advised there are no one to listen and I consider it is a waste of time. But I will try because you have requested
        You can get there by being honest civilized human beings
        If you don’t know how to deliver justice to the Tamil victims or any victims of crimes, why do we have a country, a judiciary a democracy etc. Ok I will tell you an example, If somebody is murdered how do you deliver justice. You should know. Not by saying there are many murders committed in the world, and the dead man is not going to wake up. This is how simple I can get. Please understand. Or if you don’t know how, get advice from someone who knows, or hand over that part to somebody who can, International courts?

        My intention is not to take you far – pretty difficult task, If truth is told it become arrogance injustice even unpatriotic you know where. That is why I can understand your anger. This is the essence of my comment., Hope you understand now.

        These type of analysis are political and journalist pastime for some people. There will be no action. The same players who write and comment and preach will not come forward to defend the ideals they have preached when they occupy the seats of some sorts of power or positions. R Pak – a very good example there are thousands in Sri Lanka men without principle but theories and rhetoric to suite the time.

  • Asanga Welikala


    As I have already told you, this is a timely and thoughtful reflection on some of the most fundamental issues concerning post-war Sri Lanka. Following are some preliminary comments and observations on some of your arguments.

    Post-war hagiography:

    Your observations on the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy case as an instance of criminal accountability, against the grain of the military impunity that is an element of contemporary Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, might need revision. In addition to the official historiography that is being developed with the announcement of the commissioning of updated volumes of the Mahavamsa, in the nationalist Sinhala press, a parallel process of rewriting history is taking place. This involves recreating exceptions to the linear account of nationalist progress as instances of betrayal. At the macro-level, the painting of the entire devolution and negotiations discourse of circa. 1993 to April 2004 as a temporary aberration, and treating those who played a part in it unequivocally as traitors, is part of this process. At the micro-level, the Kumaraswamy case is one that has been chosen to be recreated as an act of betrayal and treason. See the series beginning with the article entitled ‘Eda Ranaviru, Meda Sirakaru’ in the ‘Alugosuva Enathuru’ feature column by Saman Gamage in the Divayina Irida Sangrahaya of 12th July 2011.

    This is the process of ‘nationalising’ facts – in relation to the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist responses to July 1983 – that Serena Tennekoon described as ‘remystification’ (incidentally, the ethnographic object of her celebrated essay was also the Upali Group newspapers in which Gamage’s column appears) and Mervyn de Silva called ‘self-righteous recidivism’. Gamage’s piece is a classic of its genre: a mixture of deliberate distortion and emotionalism driven by ideological evangelism. My point here is not to attack your observations on the Kumaraswamy case (with which I agree), but to point to how it is being reinterpreted by the winners of the war, and in that context, draw attention to the implications it might have for the broader points about patriotism, pluralism and cosmopolitanism you make.

    The axis of British and Sri Lankan ‘neo-cons’:

    I am not too sure about whether the level of importance and coherence you attach to Liam Fox’s activities in and in relation to Sri Lanka is justified. I am particularly sceptical about your characterisation of Fox (and the faction of the Tory party he is so desperate to represent) and especially the Rajapaksa regime as neoconservative, given my understanding of the latter discourse as essentially a liberal imperialist project which seeks, in the words of Karuna Mantena in her recent work on Henry Maine, to justify ‘the use of force for transformative political projects (across borders).’ Whatever they are, the Rajapaksas are not clients or participants in any project involving liberalism of any kind or form. Likewise, Fox seems to me to be more of a traditional, faintly Powellite, conservative, which takes state sovereignty and non-intervention, unlike neo-cons, very seriously. This is the Tory viewpoint represented by, for e.g., Alan Clarke in his Commons speech opposing the Kosovo intervention in 1999, and more recently and appositely, Lord Tebbit in last week’s Foreign Office questions on Sri Lanka in the House of Lords.

    Western hypocrisy:

    Extremely valid arguments can no doubt be, and are, made ad nauseam about Western states, human rights and double standards. This however gets us nowhere in terms of the problems we have to deal with in Sri Lanka, and two wrongs do not make a right.

    The ‘monistic demos thesis’:

    Some of the most interesting aspects of your piece are where you talk about nation, nationalism and state. It is unsurprising that Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka has described this part of your essay as a ‘mini tour de force’, for it reflects an approach that Dayan himself takes in his writing (although categorically not in the dominant ideology of the administration he serves). I also think your delineation of the two groups of liberals and nationalism is somewhat of a simplification of complexities within both discourses, but that is a relatively minor matter.

    I think it is admirable that commentators like you take the time and effort to reiterate this argument for tolerance and pluralism – a vision of multicultural modernism – in the construction of the Sri Lankan identity, in the face of the dominant ethno-religious nationalist orthodoxy that is being institutionalised as we speak. For the record, I would emphasise that the enforced elision of the separate entities of the LTTE and the Tamil nation that we saw from the mid 1980s to 2009, was the mirror image of this totalising approach to nationalism at the sub-state level.

    My concern, however, is that in both methodological and normative terms, your approach merely seeks to perpetuate a failed discourse as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. I do not need to instantiate the point that post-colonial nation-building – the making of a modern and pluralist model of Sri Lankan political citizenship which simultaneously respects sub-state ethno-cultural identities as the basis of the political unity and territorial integrity of the state – has wholly failed in the last six decades. We have therefore no unified demos.

    The reason for this is that the ethno-religious nationalism enjoying the democratic majority has set about shaping the state in its own image, and in excluding other sub-state identities from the statal nation, in the case of the principal numerical minority, the sub-state group has reinforced difference and distinctiveness in the post-colonial reproduction of its own identity. It is now too late to tell the Tamils, who have staked out their position as a distinct nation, that they should jettison that self-image in exchange for membership in a modern, plural and cosmopolitan Sri Lankan nation. In the Chinthana era, this is completely counter-factual (and normatively indefensible), and in fact has been so constitutionally since 1972. The resulting position is one in which we have to treat (ethno-religious) nationalism, both majoritarian and minoritarian, as real and serious in thinking about questions of identity and unity. The theoretical challenge is then to discover and bring to light sublimated traditions of accommodation and pluralism within these differing nationalisms (especially the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism since it is in control of the state), and to use them as the basis for building a more pluralist theory of the future state and its constitutional architecture. In this regard, there is more to Sinhala-Buddhist historiography than Mahanama’s Mahavamsa tradition, and more to its constitutional vision than the authoritarian unitary state. Even some of the most central historiographical elements of contemporary Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism such as the Dutugemunu narrative, upon closer consideration, are more ambivalent than their modern reproductions, and are admitting of more pluralistic and tolerant interpretations.

    One of the deeper normative critiques of your approach is that, while it certainly respects pluralism and diversity, it nevertheless regards the nation and nationalism as something that is exclusively associated with the state, and as such it is also a conceptualisation that offers only one ‘national’ identity to citizens (the ‘monistic demos thesis’) in what is a plurinational polity. There is little real difference in this view between the nation and the state, and in regarding the statal nation, at least in aspirational terms, as a model of citizenship and unity of values, it does not take seriously the sub-state claim to nationhood. Aside from the problems of hegemony and division we have seen in Sri Lanka because of this elision of nation and state, in theoretical terms, it serves to buttress the unitary state with an even more powerfully unitary and therefore homogenising theory of the statal nation.

    Drawing upon the recent literature on national pluralism and the plurinational state elsewhere, I would argue that it is not only entirely possible to disaggregate nation and state conceptually, but also in substantive constitutional terms, to establish an institutional framework for the state that recognises multiple nationalisms without, I repeat, without endangering territorial integrity or unity. I think this ought to be the agenda for liberal state and constitutional reform, rather than going back to the failed nation-building model. The idea of the plurinational state recognises the reality of multiple nations within the territory of the island, and seeks to build a plural unity on this reality, rather than the contrived unity and the congenital monism of modernist nation-building.

    • wijayapala

      Dear Asanga,

      I would argue that it is not only entirely possible to disaggregate nation and state conceptually, but also in substantive constitutional terms, to establish an institutional framework for the state that recognises multiple nationalisms without, I repeat, without endangering territorial integrity or unity.

      Then instead of just telling us that it is possible to establish this framework, why not present to us this framework *in concrete terms*? (i.e. avoiding jargon like “shared sovereignty” and “subsidiarity,” concepts which conceal mushy ideas)

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Dear Asanga,

      Multiple, but heirarchical/heirarchised?

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Hi again, Asanga,

      What would you make of the fact that liberal-secular-progressive Indian opinion holds that the ‘two nation theory’ led to bloody partition –and therefore constitutes the deadliest of dangers?

  • Iyo

    Chaminda and Janaki,
    Chaminda has pictured the events and the motives of the ruling brothers and how the army and state machinery are geared towards turning the country into a business. No one served in the government or in the payroll now is prepared to do justice to the perceived opponents that include the tormented IDPs. The whole system is to safeguard the government and anyone who organises anti-UN protest, ties any poor government servant to trees and calls a fellow minister ‘para demula’ is rewarded and the violators of human rights and executioners of those ask questions are shielded. You also must remember that even the Supreme Court judges tried their best how not to try the case of discrimination on implementation of Sinhala Only Act, (kodeswaran v Attorney General) in 1967 sided with the state. So there is no exception in aiding and abetting discrimination exercised by the successive governments, all of which were dominated by mono-ethnic majority. This case was important because if the judges did their judicial duty then the Act would have been repealed, justice done to the linguistic minorities and enabled all to live as equals. Lastly, the preaching of non-violence by the West is only to the rebel groups of their friendly countries that include Israel and Sri Lanka.

  • http://None Expatriate

    Congratulations to Groundviews on the usual incisive analysis.However, I wish to comment on some of the statements relating to the LTTE Cadre.

    The statements “LTTE was composed of Tamil youth from impoverished( often low caste) layers of Tamil society” and later, ” battlefield confrontation between young Sinhalese and Tamils from the less able strata of Sinhala and Tamil society” requires analysis.

    LTTE had, in it’s ranks, several well educated persons from middle class and high caste members. For example, Yogaratnam Yogi and his older brother, and Selvarajah alias Rahim, the son of a middle class planter. Yogaratnam’s father,( Yogaratnam senior) a typical Tamil government servant,was brutally attacked at a railway station( Polonnaruwa?) during the 1958 riots and left to die. Fortunately he survived. It was this incident that provoked the sons to join LTTE.

    Later on, LTTE was able to recruit highly educated and skilled personnel–e.g the officers who assembled and who flew the LTTE planes.
    The passage of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and the consequent harassment of the Tamil youth helped swell the LTTE ranks. Here again, the composition was neither largely low caste, nor less educated persons.

    LTTE also recruited heavily from:those who were forcibly moved ( by LTTE)from the Northern province to the Vanni area during the invasion of Jaffna by Chandrika Kumaratunge’s army; and from the up country Indian Tamils who had moved to the Vanni in the post 1958 years.

    Thus, the composition of the LTTE consisted of a mixed bag.

    Finally,the reference to “anti LTTE” hatred by the Sinhales army seems to suggest that the hatred was of recent origins. Long before the birth and growth of the LTTE, anti Tamil hatred was rampant as evidenced during the 1958 and succesive anti Tamil riots including the 1983 pogrom. Pouring petrol and burning Tamils alive,was started in 1958 and perfected in 1983.Hence it would be more correct to say that the hatred was two pronged– against the Tamils ( for several decades) and the LTTE.

  • Patta

    It is interesting that India was not mentioned at all in this article and the importance of India in this equation, thereby belittled. I believe India and its treatment of Sri Lanka is just as important to Sri Lanka in its pursuit of independence in an inclusive society within a unitary government with assurances of certain rights so that the basic inalienable rights of the people of the North and East to live in peace is guaranteed.

    Only then will be get a lasting peace. India’s ability with its huge presence of RAW agents in the country to destabilize the country as they wish means we have to keep each government in India very closely engaged and made to feel that we are doing what they want but actually act independently being able to play one super power against the other, and in this context, both India and China are also superpowers.

    • Burning_Issue

      Dear Patta,

      “I believe India and its treatment of Sri Lanka is just as important to Sri Lanka in its pursuit of independence in an inclusive society within a unitary government with assurances of certain rights so that the basic inalienable rights of the people of the North and East to live in peace is guaranteed.”

      Please quantify of the “certain rights”; what are they and how do you envisage giving assurances to the people in the North and East? What rights do the Tamil speaking people have in terms of their language and way of life in Sri Lanka? Do you feel that the Tamil speaking people have a claim to the Tamil language in Sri Lanka? What constitute a Sri Lankan? Is a Sinhala Buddhist more Sri Lankan than the other and Tamils and Muslims at the bottom of the pile? If this is injustice, how would you go about rectifying it? Only the Sinhalese can put this right and the ball is in their court!